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In Depth

Energy
| 11/02/15

Failed projects turning Arctic against clean energy

TCE

Communities in Canada’s far north are having trouble implementing clean-energy strategies agreed upon years ago, and the fall-out is turning people against the very idea, according to Ottawa researchers.

A 208-page survey of alternative energy case studies across the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, as well as the northern regions of Nunavik in Quebec and Nunatsiavut in Labrador, produced by researchers from Carleton University, has concluded that such communities are likely to continue to depend upon fossil fuels for heating and electricity long into the future unless action is taken by energy policy makers both in the north and the nation’s capital.

The sub-arctic regions of the Yukon and Northwest Territories are best placed, with legacy hydroelectric facilities and extended grid systems—although all three territories are separated from other North American grids. And above the treeline, the three Inuit regions rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels to power isolated communities.

According to the report, submitted last month to Polar Knowledge Canada (formerly the Canadian Polar Commission), jurisdictions across this area in the high north grapple with reliability. Diesel generation at least offers communities a near 100 percent reliability, the report notes. Next comes cost, with citizens very keen to price reduction of what is some of the most expensive energy in North America. Environmental impact comes much further down the list.

In 2007, the Nunavut administration adopted an ambitious plan to support alternative energy efforts, but the negative experiences of an indefinite postponement of a proposed hydroelectric dam near Iqaluit and abandonment of a wind turbine project in Cambridge Bay have soured people’s views on the topic.

“Past experiences … with renewable technologies may have darkened the public’s perception of these types of projects in general,” the report laments.

There is some good news in the Land of the Midnight Sun however. Municipal governments are proving to be crucial actors in supporting clean energy initiatives, particularly in instituting by-laws imposing energy efficiency standards on new building construction—efforts that simultaneously lower costs and improve community well-being. In addition, a handful of small solar projects have been developed with funding from the federal government.

Amongst the most promising near-term options are hydro, and combined wind-diesel and photovoltaic-diesel. Retirement and rebate programmes encouraging energy-efficient appliances and heating are common across the Arctic, and governments are overhauling the commercial and residential properties they own.

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